By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The 5 steps at a glance:

  1. Change Your Mind
  2. Healthy Habits
  3. Heal the Child Within
  4. Stay Connected
  5. Create Purpose

Almost everyone struggles with depression, anxiety and worry at times. Most of the time, these problems are situational or result from ineffective coping skills. Sometimes depression and anxiety can interfere with normal functioning and may require medication or more intensive treatments.

The good news is that most of us can manage – even defeat – depression, anxiety and worry using the following 5 steps:

1. Change Your Mind

We are what we think. The Buddha said that “All that we are is a result of our thoughts.” When we think dark thoughts, our emotions become clouded with negativity. We feel justified when we’re angry, even though the anger erodes our personal serenity. Obsessive worry and rumination results in one major accomplishment: anxiety. The first step in defeating anxiety and depression is to change your mind.

Here are some suggestions for Changing Your Mind:

  • Mindfulness – Practice awareness without judgment. Notice your thoughts and feelings from a place of detachment. Develop a daily meditation practice to help you detach from your negative thinking. Mindfulness is one of the most useful and effective coping skills.
  • Live in the moment – The great philosopher Lao Tzu said that “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
  • Use cognitive-behavioral methods – Keep a journal of your negative thoughts and look for the distortions. Write a positive re-frame for each negative thought. For example, a negative thought might be “I’ll never be able to do this.” The distortion is all-or-nothing thinking and predicting a negative outcome. The re-frame might be “I haven’t done this yet – I can learn to do this with practice and make progress day by day.”
  • Create a new story – When we’re depressed or anxious we’re imprisoned by an old narrative. It’s a story created by the mentality of lack – we don’t have what we need, we’re not good enough, or other people won’t cooperate. Practice a new belief system rooted in abundance. The old story is created as a result of childhood experience – see #3, below. The old story is the past – we can create a new story in the present.
  • Use affirmations – Write a list of your personal strengths. Add 2 or 3 strengths you don’t think you have but would like. Practice reading this list every day with the words “I am ______” before each word (e.g., “I am loving. I am responsible. I am successful.”).
  • Practice acceptance and forgiveness – toward yourself and others. Make a conscious decision to accept yourself for who you are. And forgive them their trespasses – your anger only hurts you in the long run.

2. Healthy Habits

Years of scientific research proves that lifestyle contributes greatly to depression, anxiety and worry. Unhealthy habits often result in unhealthy mental states. Conversely, proper self-care and healthy habits can help you defeat anxiety and depression. Such as:

  • Exercise – Did you know that studies show regular physical exercise is often just as effective as anti-depressant medications? Specifically, rigorous or intense exercise at least 5 times a week – including cardio (walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming) and weight-bearing exercise that increases respiration and perspiration.
  • Good nutrition – A balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with reduced sugar and fat content is associated with stress reduction, better sleep, and improved mood.
  • Sleep – A minimum of 7-8 hours is recommended. Sleep disturbance, such as insomnia, can be both a cause and effect of depression and anxiety.
  • Stress management – Chronic, high levels of stress is a major contributing factor in a great many physical illnesses and disorders. Chronic stress is highly associated with anxiety and depression. Effective stress management includes all of the healthy habits listed here, along with mindfulness practices, counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Chemicals – Avoid them or use them in moderation. Excessive alcohol and drug use, nicotine, and the misuse of certain prescription medications is known to result in problems with anxiety and depression.
  • Work-Life balance – All work and no play make Jack anxious and depressed. We are an over-worked society. Many countries that prioritize healthy work-family-play balance report fewer problems with anxiety and depression.

3. Heal the Child Within

Several recent studies have concluded that there are at least nine major causes of depression and anxiety. Only 2 of the 9 are biological. The World Health Organization, among other authoritative sources, declares that we must deal with the deeper causes of these disorders. What are the deeper causes of depression and anxiety? The answer is now quite clear: childhood trauma due to neglect, abandonment and abuse. To address these deeper causes, we must heal the child within, and develop better coping skills.

  • Ask not what’s wrong with you – ask what happened to you. Years of clinical research and experience teaches us that depression and anxiety result from negative childhood experiences.
  • Inner Child Work – Talk to the child within on a daily basis. Reparent the little girl or boy who lives inside of you. The inner child is not pop psychology – it’s not simply a concept or theory. No, there’s not a little kid running around inside of you. Modern brain science shows that the essence of the child lives in the neural network in our brains. And that child continues to experience emotional pain throughout our lives

It’s easy to talk to your inner child. First read my article “Who’s In Charge?” in our web site. The 2 best methods for connecting with the child within are visualization and journaling. Listen to the child and validate his or her feelings. Let her know that you’re there for her, that you love her unconditionally, and that you will always protect her. For more information about inner child work, contact us today.

  • Trauma Recovery – The child is traumatized as a result of neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Abuse may be verbal, physical or sexual. Even spanking may be a form of abuse. Children are also traumatized when they are over-controlled, experience excessive demands or expectations, or are manipulated into inappropriate roles (such as the “parentified child” – the child who becomes parent to other siblings or the parents themselves).

Trauma recovery work must be conducted by a professional counselor or therapist who is trained in EMDR or other trauma recovery methods.

4. Stay Connected

Not necessarily to your device! Rather, we’re talking about social and family connection. Many research studies now show the necessity and the significant health and mental health benefits of human attachment. People who maintain close, emotionally meaningful attachments to others are healthier and live longer, happier lives. And their rates and incidents of depression and anxiety are lower and less severe.

  • Social supports – Stay close to family, friends, co-workers and others. One of the primary symptoms of depression is social isolation – both a cause and an effect of depression. And anxious people are often socially avoidant. Positive attachments stimulate the production of stress-relieving hormones. Love and friendship is a natural anti-depressant. Take an active part in conversation, sports and fun activities, volunteer activity, cooperative projects, community involvement, and many others.
  • Love, romance, and affection – Possibly the best anti-depressant and de-stressor available. A prominent family therapist once said that every human being needs a minimum of 6 hugs per day. Bring love and romance back into your marriage. It doesn’t take much: flowers; a candle-lit dinner; a sunset walk on the beach; a Sunday picnic; unexpected love notes; a kiss that lingers a little longer…
  • Rehab your marriage (or relationship) – Depression, anxiety and worry are commonplace in distressed relationships. Try couples therapy or one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives.

5. Create Purpose

A life full of meaning and purpose is a great antidote to depression and anxiety. There are hundreds of possibilities for creating purpose in your life, such as:

  • Acts of kindness – In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about “The Law of Giving.” He says “The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life.” Acts of kindness include volunteer work, community involvement and activism, and other philanthropic efforts.
  • Work – My father once told me that his work kept him from being depressed. Productive activity of any type is helpful in maintaining a positive focus – and to refocus away from anxious, worried or other negative thoughts and beliefs. If your daily activity or work lacks meaning, maybe you can change your mind, using the steps in #1, above.
  • Life plan – Do you have a plan? An old friend of mine, a prominent psychiatrist in Virginia, once told me you should always be looking forward to your next vacation (and a visit with relatives is not a vacation). Goals and plans give us something positive to look forward to. Your goals should reflect your primary values, closely associated with the kind of meaning and purpose you want in your life. Also, consider a volunteer vacation – visit a country or community that needs your help. Many such opportunities can be found online (visit sites such as www.gviusa.com or www.discovercorps.com).
  • Continuing education – When is the last time you attended a class, symposium or workshop? Adult education is available in most communities. Most colleges and universities offer free or low cost programs in many areas of interest (politics, art, history, finance, IT, etc.). Intellectual and creative pursuits improve not only your mind, but your state of mind (and mood states).
  • Spirituality – Transpersonal consciousness (beyond personal identity) and various forms of spirituality are comforting, and provide meaning and purpose in our lives. The regular active practice of connecting to higher levels of consciousness or a higher power has been shown to reduce problems with depression and anxiety.
  • Creativity – Art, music, design, and other creative practices engage parts of our brain helpful in mitigating against anxiety and depression. When we literally create meaning and purpose with these parts of our brain, we replace the negative and the worried with positive inspiration.

Our counselors and therapists are experienced in working with all types of depression, anxiety and worry. For further information, and to schedule a consultation, please contact us today.

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